Intelligence chief condemns ‘waterboarding’ as torture

By Stephen Foley


The head of the US intelligence community has come closer than any other official in the Bush administration to comdemning the interrogation technique of “waterboarding” as torture, stoking a legal row over its use by the CIA.

Mike McConnell, the US Director of National Intelligence, said the legal test for torture should be “pretty simple: Is it excruciatingly painful to the point of forcing someone to say something because of the pain?”

Although waterboarding has been considered torture for more than a century and the US military is banned from using it, President George Bush has defended “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA. Waterboarding is a process of controlled drowning in which a suspect’s lungs are filled with water and he is made to believe he is dying.

Controversy over whether the practice constitutes torture has put Mr Bush on a collision course with the Democrats, who want it banned. More significantly, CIA agents who have carried out waterboarding — and their superiors who approved the practice — could face legal action.

“If it ever is determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it,” Mr McConnell told The New Yorker magazine yesterday. “If I had water draining into my nose… oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful. Whether it is torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture.”

Last month, a former CIA officer revealed that Abu Zubaida, a senior al-Qai’da suspect, was subjected to waterboarding and broke down in about 35 seconds. John Kiriakou, who was based in Pakistan, said it “was like flipping a switch”.